Stem Cells in the News - April 2019
We have captured this month’s most interesting, innovative, and maybe some of the strangest examples of stem cells in the news from around the world.
A therapy developed at Osaka University received provisional approval for use to treat damaged or diseased corneal tissue. The therapy utilizes donor induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) reprogrammed into corneal cells to create sheets of corneal tissue for transplantation into patients. In animal studies, this therapy has demonstrated vision restoration and halts further damage in the eye. The team has the first set of treatments scheduled for the end of July 2019, but they have one final hurdle to overcome – full approval from the Japanese health ministry.
Xiaojun Lian, an assistant professor in biomedical engineering at Penn State, has received funding to develop a therapeutic kit for the treatment of Type 1 Diabetes. Their research will focus on developing a small molecule-based kit for the reprogramming of stem cells to pancreatic progenitor cells. The research team believes the use of small molecules in the differentiation will make the protocol more stable and cost-effective for scale up and eventual therapeutic use. Once tested, the kits will be sent to several other teams at other universities for further validation before commercialization and scale up of the method.
In a groundbreaking paper, researchers from University College London have reported the 2nd patient ever to be in full HIV-1 remission following treatment with hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) transplantation. The treatment utilizes HSCs harvested from a patient containing a mutation in the CCR5 gene, a co-receptor for HIV infection. The patient most recently treated has had undetectable HIV-1 DNA and no circulating virus in their blood for 18 months. While it is early to claim they have been “cured”, the results are promising and may open a new treatment avenue for others diagnosed with HIV in the future.
A recent study suggests some cells have a competitive advantage for reprogramming over others. The team observed the elimination or incomplete reprogramming in almost 80% of starting populations of mouse embryonic fibroblasts and they sequenced the remaining 20% to determine what they had that set them apart from the rest. Their findings show that not all stem cells are created equal. Learn more about how you can better assess your reprogramming in our blog post!
Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center recently published a study that identifies a compound that more effectively kills glioblastoma cells in a different mechanism to current treatments. The approach focuses on attacking the growth of the cancer stem cells (CSCs), which grow slowly and often evade the radiation and chemotherapies currently in use. The team of researchers ran several high throughput screens to identify this compound, dubbed Gboxin, and demonstrated it reduces tumor growth and metastasis without making the animal sick. While the preliminary results are promising, the team wants to determine if Gobxin can cross the blood brain barrier and if this compound could be effective for other cancers as well.
Researchers out of Tel Aviv University have developed a genetically encoded biosensor for the detection of leukemic stem cells in hopes of better targeting and destroying these hard-to-kill cells. The sensor is a major step in the field of personalized and precision oncology and works by targeting “enhancer” portions of regulatory genes, which are more highly expressed in cancer stem cells (CSCs). The research team also demonstrated that these sensor-positive cells can be destroyed by a common chemotherapy drug. This prototype has the potential to be used to develop “killer genes” to fully eradicate leukemic stem cells.
A recent publication out of Japan describes a method for the manufacturing of platelets from stem cells derived from adipose tissue. This would provide an endless supply of donor platelets for transfusions, which could help alleviate platelet shortages worldwide. While the method would be more expensive than obtaining donor platelets, the researchers show that the method is simple and would be easily scalable. The team hopes to enter human clinical safety trials in the next few years.
The FOXG1 gene has known roles in several cerebral development processes and in disorders like Rett Syndrome. A recent publication shows its fundamental role in stem cell differentiation into neurons and glial cells during neurodevelopment. It drives the production of the appropriate cell type at the correct moment in development. The gene appears to be highly conserved in both normal development and development in neurological disorders. These findings could provide a new avenue to prevent disorders of the brain and aid in better understanding of human brain development.
A new transcription factor responsible for the regulation of the differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) into bone have been identified by researchers at the University of Napoli. The factor, called Osteoblast inducer 1 (ObI-1) regulates bone formation by stimulating the BMP signaling pathway, thus affecting upstream Runx2 expression. The team demonstrated this role in mice using several knockout and overexpression models. This finding further widens our understanding of MSCs and their potential for several therapies to treat bone damage and disorders in humans.
Microsoft has entered into a collaboration with Oxford BioMedica, a UK-based biotech company, to explore the use of artificial intelligence and how it can aid in making cell therapies more affordable to patients in the future. The collaboration will combine Microsoft’s platform for artificial intelligence platform, Station B, and Oxford BioMedica’s manufacturing process of viral vectors. The data they gather will then be analyzed to improve yield and cost-effectiveness in the entire manufacturing process.